Category Archives: animal vs man

Painting Tortoises

       FFWCC painted tortoise

         In a recent Facebook post, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission warned that painting gopher tortoises is illegal. At first glance this prank seems harmless, but the post warns that painting the shells can severely compromise their health. Humans apply sunscreen to block out harmful UV rays, but we do allow, and encourage some exposure to the nutrients provided by the sun. Paint on a turtle’s shell prevents such absorption.
The paint also contains harmful chemicals which can be absorbed into the tortoise’s bloodstream. While a tortoise’s carapace provides some protection, it’s natural coloration helps to camouflage and protect the animal from predators.
Gopher tortoises are listed as a threatened species.

It is against the law to kill, harass or destroy gopher tortoises, their eggs or burrows. If you suspect a wildlife law violation, report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Reward Program at 888-404-FWCC, 24-hours a day or online. You could be eligible for a reward if your information leads to an arrest.

Poached Sea Turtle Eggs

Proyecto universitario de estudio y conservacion de tortugas marinas. Trabajo de campo en la Peninsula de Guanahacabibes, Pinar del Rio, 7 al 19 de agosto de 2007. Foto©Rene Perez Massola

Do you like your turtle eggs scrambled, fried or poached? Hopefully, none of those. But some are indulging in the latter. Of seven species of sea turtles, five frequent Florida beaches to lay their eggs.  Unlike tourists, the turtles don’t have an easy or relaxing sojourn. They live most of their lives at sea, migrating up to 1400 miles between feeding grounds and the laying site. They come ashore, each one to the same location where she was hatched, to lay her own clutch of between 70 and 190 eggs, depending on the species.

No maternal nurturing here. She digs a hole, deposits and buries her eggs and returns to the sea. Mating occurs between May and October, so it isn’t unusual to find nests during peak vacation times, particularly in Florida, which has 90% of sea turtle nesting area in the continental United States.

A recent news article reported nests being disturbed on a South Florida beach. Eggs were completely removed from two nests and three others showed signs of interference. All five sea turtle species in Florida are protected and it’s illegal to harm them or their eggs. Under the Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act, stolen eggs carry fines of $100 each, a costly breakfast. More so for the turtles.

A sweet, elderly friend, a self- described Florida Cracker, tells me she and her family consumed turtle eggs when she was a child. “Little did we know,” she says. She has raised three sons, all who became wildlife officers, so I am confident they have more than atoned for those exotic breakfasts.

But in many Central American and Asian countries today, turtle eggs are considered a food source. In some cultures (one in Mexico), turtles are a religious icon and people consume them and their eggs. For hundreds of years, Europeans prized turtle soup. Many Latin and Caribbean cultures consider sea turtle eggs an aphrodisiac. But in this over-fed American culture, anyone who stoops to stealing sea turtle eggs must be either uneducated or gluttonous.

Our Florida turtles, green, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead, face enormous perils besides poaching. Development along nesting beaches pose a huge threat. The hatchlings mostly emerge at night and head for the sea, which sparkles with the moon’s reflection off wavelets. They can easily be confused by lights from human habitations and head the wrong way. These days folks living along the beach are doing much better at keeping outdoor lighting to a minimum, but many simply don’t know or refuse to inconvenience themselves during mating season. 

When they hatch, the tiny turtles make their run to the ocean, dodging sea birds and other predators. Only one in one thousand survive to adulthood. On this, their first outing, they must dodge raccoons, foxes, dogs, birds, ghost crabs, and humans. Once in the water, they become prey for carnivorous fish. Babies and adults are vulnerable to oil spills, marine and shore debris and entanglement in fish nets. Turtle excluder devices (TEDS) ae not consistently used by trawlers. TEDS, which allow turtles to escape nets and prevent them from drowning, are not uniformly required around the Gulf, and are considered a nuisance by many shrimpers.

As if all those obstacles were not enough, climate change is having an effect. Temperature determines the sex of embryonic turtles – and gators. Below 85 degrees F (30 C) males develop. Above 85 degrees, predominantly females emerge. This could certainly affect future breeding.

What’s a turtle to do? Hopefully be encouraged by some good news. At the Archie Carr Wildlife refuge in Brevard County the 2015 season ended with 12,905 sea turtle nests recorded on a thirteen- mile stretch of the refuge. Imperiled species are still working toward recovery. Education is getting better, but there are still those who don’t see their self- gratification as harmful to the beautiful world we were given. Even hefty fines and threat of imprisonment don’t deter the selfish. 

Where to See Sea Turtles

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a list of 23 places where you can see captive sea turtles, many being rehabilitated. They also list 17 organizations permitted to conduct public sea turtle watches. These all take place in June and July and reservations are required. I have observed a turtle laying her eggs and it is an amazing sight. Seeing this lumbering creature drag herself onto the beach and use her flippers to dig a large hole will have you holding your breath with emphatic pangs. You’ll find yourself pulling for her as she slowly deposits a huge amount of eggs. Exhausted, she covers the cache, then again drags herself over the sand and back to the sea. It’s enough to make you want to cheer.

If you do go, call me. I’d love to join you. At Seeturtles.org there are research and volunteer expeditions you can join, going to Cuba, Nicaragua, Beliz and Costa Rica. When you visit the beach, keep outside lights off from May to October, and close the curtains. Encourage those around you to do the same.  If you live near a beach, volunteer as a monitor, marking nests as tracks are observed. And hope. Hope that those who eat poached sea turtle eggs don’t choke on them, but at least get a good case of indigestion.

Picture credit:  Rene Perez Massola

For more information, go to:

 SeeTurtles.org, Defenders.org, Sea Turtle Conservancy

Bear-Proof Trash Cans

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After bashing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, I must give kudos for the new plan to offer bear-proof garbage cans to residents where a high number of bear-human interactions, rarely happy events, are occurring. FWC is not actually gifting the containers, but providing a $20,000 grant which will help buy 163 special, secure cans for residents in a high interaction neighborhood in Marion County, Florida.

At first glance, only 163 cans for $20,000 seems like a lot, but when I did the math, it didn’t seem so bad at $122.70 each. Online shopping for bear-proof cans revealed a variety of cans up to $951.60! Further searches offer instructions on how to make your own can secure from bears. Roanoke County Solid Waste Department’s tutorial offers a cheap fix involving double hinge rasps and clips on three sides of the lid. Check it out on YouTube. But be mindful: Unless all your neighbors are on the same page, you will still have visitors from the family Ursidae on your street.

Picture Credit: QualityTaxidermysupply.com

Should Manatees be Removed From the Endangered Species Act?

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At what point should an animal be removed from the endangered list? In my own home state of Florida,  black bears listed as threatened were rewarded for a rebound in population numbers with a one-week hunt. The issue of 3200 hunting permits for the taking of 300 bears in a one week hunt of the estimated 2,640 statewide was overkill, pardon my pun. The hunt quota was filled in only two days. With those odds, is it any wonder? It’s hard to argue with the logic of our state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Thomas Eason, the commission’s director of habitat and species conservation recently said, “We’re having more bears born and surviving than are dying.” Wow. Perfectly reasonable criteria for granting hunting permits. The commission is considering another hunt in 2016.

Lovers of large mammals will be aggrieved to learn the gentle manatee is the conservators’ next target. The “sea cow” is now being considered for removal from the Endangered Species  List.

With encouragement from the federal government, which recently proposed dropping the sea mammal from the list, the commission is now zeroing in on the manatee, not with a hunt, but by removing its protection. If you do any boating in South Florida or the Caribbean, you will be hard pressed to find a manatee without numerous gashes in its flesh from propellers of speeding boats.

According to Savethemanatee.org, there were 6,250 Florida manatees documented in the February, 2016 aerial survey. In 2015 there were 405 deaths in the state of Florida waters, some from red tides, most from boat encounters. Tell me this gentle, slow-moving sirenian is not in danger. Better yet, tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At least they’re asking for input from the public. Go to www.regulations.gov and post a comment. Unfortunately, I learned yesterday the deadline for comments is 11:59 P. M., April 7. Please act fast. Manatees can’t.

Good News for Manatees?

manatee-header

After years on the endangered species list, there is good news for manatees.  The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the sea mammal’s population has recovered enough to be reclassified as a “threatened” species. But is this really “good news?” The Pacific Legal Foundation, representing a group of recreational boaters, tour operators, dive shops and hotels in Crystal River on the Florida Gulf Coast, began petitions for the reclassification eight years ago. Two lawsuits and much lobbying later, they have  achieved their goal.

Just what is the difference between “endangered” and “threatened?” The former means the species is in imminent risk of extinction; the latter means they could become endangered in the foreseeable future. Boating, waterfront development, and red tides are still a threat. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, recorded 830 manatee deaths in 2013. Deaths declined in 2014 to 371 and 405 between Jan 1 and Dec. 31, 2015.

According to the Save the Manatee Club’s most recent aerial survey in February, 2015, at least 6,063 mammals live in Florida. Considering that number and the number of deaths yearly, it strikes me they are still in imminent risk of extinction. Do you agree?

You can order a manatee specialty plate at myfloridaspecialtyplate.com/order-now.html for $25. Revenue is deposited in the Save the Manatee Trust Fund created within the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Savethemnatee.org/population.htm

fish and wildlife commission myfwc.com/manatee

ADOPT AN ELEPHANT World Elephant Day Aug.12

elephant-challenge

Seen any mammoths lately? Like modern elephants, they were contemporaries of Homo sapiens, and therein lies the problem. Threats to the largest land mammal on earth include the loss and degradation of habitat, and poaching for ivory. In 1989 international trade in ivory was banned, but underground markets still thrive in some countries, with a growing demand from Asians, particularly Chinese, who consider car ownership and ivory decorations the ultimate signs of affluence.

Surprisingly, the greatest threat to the beasts is conflict with human farmers. Voracious elephant appetites conflict with humans trying to feed their own families. The World Wildlife Federation is attempting to eliminate conflict between people and elephants, mobilizing and educating communities. Protecting crops requires proper land use, allowing for seasonal movement of herds. WWF is attempting to educate populations in proper land management and techniques for protecting crops. Additionally, they are instilling an appreciation for wildlife tourism as an economic resource. Efforts include training park guards, monitoring elephant movement and developing techniques to protect crops.

You and I can participate in the effort to preserve these magnificent creatures through World Wildlife Federation’s Adopt an Elephant Program. Eighty-four percent of the program’s spending goes directly to conservation efforts. Charity Navigator gives a high rating to the 501C3 charity. Gift options range from $25 to $250. An adoption certificate is included with each gift package. Next time you’re shopping for a birthday present, why not adopt an elephant?

A second, fun way to help elephants is through The Nature Conservancy’s #elegram Project. Doodle, draw, sculpt, paint, or sew an elephant and post it on social media, matching your #elegram with a donation. Learn more about the plight of elephants at The Nature Conservancy .  CLick for written elegram instructions

Now sit back and celebrate World Elephant Day, August 12, 2015, by watching a 30-minute documentary, Return to the Forest , and take pride in knowing you’ve helped conserve an amazing species.

Picture Credit: EarthKids.com/ek-elephants.aspx

Who Killed Cecil the Lion?

Can we really throw stones at the dentist who killed Cecil, Zimbabwe’s iconic lion? Until the late Pleistocene, 10,000 years ago, lions were the most widespread large land mammals, after humans, ranging from AlaskaLion_waiting_in_Namibia to Peru, and throughout Asia and Africa.* Think about it! Lions roamed where we once lived! So did mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, ten feet tall terror birds, rhinos, bison, hippos, camels, beardogs and glyptodonts, resembling giant armadillos. Where did they all go?

At one time, North America was home to more mega fauna than Africa. What happened to them? Granted, some, like the horse which originated here, migrated across the Bering Straits, and a newly formed isthmus to South America. Ice ages (there were at least five) had an effect. Parasites could easily decimate a whole herd. On school tours at the museum, I ask the children which do you think had the greatest impact? chill, kill, or ill? Invariably, they choose kill. Why? Do they know their own species so well?

Maybe. Remember the stories of 19th century train passengers shooting bison from the windows for sport? Those who couldn’t experience the west lived vicariously through “wild west shows,” like “Buffalo” Bill Cody’s, he who reportedly slaughtered more than 4,000 bison in two years.

We are not the only species that kills for reasons other than food. Cecil’s rival, another adult male, has killed Cecil’s cubs, which will assure less competition for his own progeny, a strategy not unknown among humans. Humans are adaptable. We’re resourceful. That’s why we remain at the top of the food chain. But killing for the thrill of the kill is less than human. The pride probably ate the murdered cubs. Humans are one step above cannibalism, but my friend Kaye would say we carnivores are not.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, lion populations in Africa are in serious decline, mostly from human intervention. Lions have suffered a population reduction of approximately 30% over the past two decades (approximately three lion generations). Whether a species is endangered or not, what does it say about us as a species to have trophies of animal heads on the wall? Think about it! 

*C.R. Dick Harrington, Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, vol. 6

Picture credit: Kevin Pluck at Okonjima AfriCat Foundation, Namibia

Beaver Attacks Men

You knew about the big teeth. You knew about the wide, flat tail. But who knew beavers could be aggressive? On June 26 the AP reported a beaver attacked two Oregon men, who then fell into the river. The men had climbed onto a beaver dam and were attacked by the animal. Their injuries were not life-threatening, but I bet they won’t be visiting any more beaver homes!beaver-w-branch-1

Beavers dam streams to create productive wetlands. According to Beavers: Wetlands & Wildlife, almost half of endangered and threatened species in North America rely upon wetlands. Wetlands ease flooding, lesson erosion, and purify water, lessening treatment for human use. Wetlands are an economic boon, and by creating and maintaining them, beavers provide essential services to people.

A Native American word for beaver also means “affable,” a word which, under normal circumstances, describes the demeanor of the intelligent little mammal. More and more, humans and wildlife are crossing paths, but intentional intrusion such as the above are foolish and merit defensive action by a beneficial species.

Check out my article, Beavers in the House, in BoysQuest Magazine, April, 2015, about Dorothy Richards, who helped repopulate the Adirondacks.